Summary: How will the Winchester's pick up the pieces after "Devil's Trap".
Characters: Dean/Sam/John/Missouri Mosley
Catagory: Gen/Angst/AU/hurt!Dean/hurt & comfort
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys or the show, just the story.
Spoilers: Season 1 is fair game.
Chapters 1-3/Chapters 4-5/Chapters 6-7/Chapters 8-9/Chapters 10-11/Chapter 12/Chapters 13-14/Chapter15
Chapter 16: Frail
"If your brother resists facing up to his fears, resists my methods in any way, then his inner being will continue to disintegrate. Look, let’s be honest here, if Dean refuses to face up to this, if any part of him is unwilling to fight for himself, for his life, then there’s not much more I or anyone else can do for him.”
Jay’s words painfully squashed any easy-fix hopes Sam had been nursing – some medicine, some rest, lots of fluids – these were the words Sam had hoped to hear. Not ifs and maybes. He needed to know that Dean’s return to health was assured, not up for grabs. It wasn’t fair, not after all they’d been through already. How could this be happening – again? Sam had thought that once they brought Dean home, things would gradually return to normal and they could leave all the rest behind them in the past – where it belonged.
Stammering slightly, Sam asked, “You mean there’s still a possibility that he could…?”
“Sam, I’m sorry,” Jay said on a sigh. “I know this is hard, and that your family has been through a lot, but I’m not going to disgrace your family with lies. Yes, Dean could die. But, we’re all going to do our best to make sure that it’s a very remote possibility. I’m going to fight for your brother the best I can – you just make sure he brings his best efforts to the table with him, because without that, all of this is moot.”
Eyebrows uplifted and face open in honesty, Sam said, “You don’t know my brother. Dean’s great at fighting for others, but not for himself – especially when it comes to facing his own fears. I’m not sure I can do or say anything that’ll make a difference.”
“I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit where Dean is concerned. If anyone can make a difference – it’s you,” Jay responded. “You have to at least try, okay, Sam?”
Sam nodded his head, eyes darting quickly to the side and back again, as he said, “Yeah, okay. I’ll do my best. I just hope it’s enough.”
Seeing the anxiety twisting Sam’s features, Jay laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder, then gave him a quick clap on the back as he said, “Your brother’s spirit is strong and his heart is good – if anyone can survive this it is he. He’s strongly motivated to live; his duty binds him to this life still. I believe we can pull him through this, together.”
Letting his hand fall back to his side, Jay excused himself by saying, “Now, I must make preparations for the rituals and I need to speak with your dad, tell him what I know. Later, when I get back, I’ll explain my plans for Dean in greater detail, but I want to confer with my father on a few things and gather some necessary materials first. Just hang tight and follow the instructions I left you, and make sure you get that prescription filled. I believe Dean’s in the beginning stages of pneumonia, but the antibiotics should get a handle on that while we work on the rest of him. Take care, Sam Winchester; be strong for your brother and all will be well.”
Sam nodded again, fingering the prescription that Jay handed him, and watched the older man disappear into the kitchen. Turning back toward the bedroom, Sam let his gaze linger on his brother lying so still and subdued in the bed. Dean’s only movement came in the form of chills and harsh, wet coughing as it shook his entire body under the sheet. Once again still, Dean closed his eyes and breathed congested shallow breaths almost in a panting action. His face was sickly white and dark circles lined his eye sockets. He was beginning to look gaunt; something Sam had never seen his brother look.
Just seeing Dean looking small and frail lying in that bed was enough to convince Sam that Jay was speaking the truth. It was all true. Dean would’ve never allowed himself to seem so vulnerable in front of anyone like he had this morning if there wasn’t something seriously wrong with him beyond the physical. Even when he’d been dying on the way to Nebraska, he’d never allowed Sam to help him, brusquely shoving off any well-meaning attempts.
Walking into the room, Sam rested his hip on the edge of the bed and watched as Dean’s eyes fluttered open to meet his. Weariness, bone-deep and crushing in its heaviness, reflected from the depths of Dean’s tired hazel-green eyes. Sam watched as his brother attempted a small, tight smile – he was still trying to protect Sam, to console him into thinking his brother was better than he looked.
Clearing his emotion roughened voice, Sam asked, “Can I get you anything? Some tea, a milkshake, some fries or maybe a burger?”
Dean shook his head ever so slightly and closed his eyes again, as if that tiny movement had exhausted him.
“Come on, Dean. You have to at least drink something. The doctor said lots of fluids, remember?”
Eyes still shut, Dean whispered, “N-nothing cold.”
Laying a hand lightly on his brother’s shoulder, Sam asked, “How about some decaf coffee?”
“Decaf?” Dean scoffed, his face wrinkled in clear disgust.
“Yes, decaf. Caffeine is a diuretic and we need to keep you hydrated,” Sam patiently explained, barely keeping his eyes from rolling at his brother’s typical response.
Gazes meeting again, Dean nodded as he managed another weak smile and said, “Always the smart one. Okay, then, decaf. Thanks, Sammy.”
“No problem.” Sam left the room and headed for the kitchen, intending to get his brother his coffee and the ice packs Jay had insisted on for the fever. By the time he got there, Jay had already left and John was staring unseeingly into his mug, Missouri sitting across from him.
“Hey, Missouri?” Sam broke the silence and waited for the contemplative woman to stir from her own thoughts before continuing, “Have you got stuff we can make four ice packs out of?”
“I think so,” she replied. “I’ve got a regular ice pack and two of that kind you put in coolers. For the fourth, we can put some ice cubes in a gallon-sized storage bag.”
Rousing himself from his stupor, John asked, “Why four?”
“Dr. Penagashea said we should put an ice pack under each of Dean’s armpits and the bends of his legs to help bring down the fever,” Sam answered, filling the plastic storage bag Missouri had given him before she scurried upstairs in search of another ice pack.
“Jay mentioned a prescription. Give it to me and I’ll go get it filled,” John said, the rich timbre of his voice filling the tiny kitchen.
Sparing a quick glance over his shoulder, Sam chuckled, saying, “Yeah, and how’re you gonna do that with your leg in a cast?”
“I didn’t say I was gonna drive, Sam. I’ll manage,” John said, his voice full of pride and a whole lot of stubbornness.
Pausing with the make-shift ice pack in his hands, Sam turned fully toward his father and frowned, saying, “Listen, Dad. You don’t have to avoid Dean. I can go fill the prescription and let you sit with him.”
Gratefully, John smiled at his younger son.
“Your brother needs you right now, Sam. I just keep making things worse. If the best thing I can do for Dean is run errands and give him space, then that’s what I’m gonna do.” John stood up and held out his hand.
“C’mon, Sam. You know that this is what’s best for him. I just want your brother to get well.” John continued to hold out his hand as he met Sam’s stare with patience and concern.
Fishing into the back pocket of his jeans, Sam relented.
“Yeah, don’t we all. Here.” Sam held the piece of paper out to his dad and let go as soon as John gripped it. “And, Dad? Thanks.”
“I’ll be back in a few. Take care of him for me and…try to get some rest yourself, Son. You’re limping pretty heavily on that knee.” John gestured toward Sam’s walking cast.
Giving his dad a quick grin, Sam nodded his head and then went back to preparing the ice pack. No sooner had the front door banged shut from John’s exit, than Missouri came bustling back into the kitchen with the blue, accordion-like ice pack she had been searching for.
“Here ya go, Sam. Now, let me get those two gel packs out of the freezer for you. Where’s your father goin’?” she asked in a lilting voice.
“He went to get Dean’s antibiotics, big bulky cast and all,” Sam replied, sealing the freezer bag tight. Seeing Missouri shake her head in disgust and a little bit of wonder, he continued, “I’m gonna go ahead and take these to Dean.”
Reaching into the freezer, she said, “I’m right behind you with the other two.”
As they came near the room, they heard the sounds of rustling sheets and distressed mumbling. Stepping up his speed, Sam quickly limped into the room and deposited the packs onto the nightstand as he slid next to his flailing, moaning brother who was valiantly trying to fight off an unknown attacker.
“Dean. Dean. Stop, Dean – you’re safe. It’s Sam. Listen to me…wake-up, Dean,” Sam called out. Wrestling his brother’s arms down by his sides, Sam leaned in closer to his brother’s face and soothed, “Dean, it’s me. It’s Sam.”
“Sam?” Dean asked, squinting up through the perspiration at his little brother, trying to focus his hazy vision. Quieting down, the elder asked, “Sam? What’s going on? Where are we?”
Dean’s confusion sent a jolt of alarm snaking through Sam’s body; he knew this wasn’t a good sign. Gently Sam answered, “Where at Missouri’s, in Lawrence, remember? You’re sick and Dr. Penagashea was here just a few minutes ago.”
Face scrunched up in concentration, Dean tried to push past the fog and remember. Slowly he began to recall where he was and how he came to be there. Relaxing a little more, Dean let his head sink completely into his pillow, lids shut against the blaring light in the room.
“Missouri’s. Right, I remember. Where’s Dad?” he wanted to know.
Feeling the tension fall from his own body, Sam said, “He went to get your prescription filled. He’ll be right back. Do you need anything?”
“A drink,” Dean’s cracked voice sounded weakly. “I need a drink.”
Shoulders slumping in disgust, Sam exclaimed, “The coffee! I forgot the coffee. I’m sorry, Dean. I’ll go get it right now.”
“No, no, Sam. I’ll go get it.” Missouri’s voice stopped his upward motion. “You stay here and off that leg,” she ordered, then, as if on second thought asked, “Did you say coffee?” Seeing him nod, she questioned, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Probably not, but I figured it was something liquid. And, what the heck, he could use a little humoring. Just one cup of decaf, though, and then I was going to try something else. He doesn’t want anything cold,” Sam answered back, already placing the ice packs exactly as Jay had instructed him, causing Dean to draw in sharp, jerky intakes of breath. He had to slap his brother’s hands away to keep him from chucking them off the bed.
“Okay, then. I’ll get it. I’ll make some chicken broth, too, for later. That’ll be better for him than anything.”
Missouri had left the room before he had a chance to answer her, which was fine since he was a little preoccupied with getting Dean to leave the freezing packs in place. Sam hated causing his brother even more discomfort, but he knew this was necessary for his brother’s health.
“Dean, you have to leave them there, they’ll help bring down your temperature,” Sam said.
“C-c-cold, t-t-too c-cold,” Dean stammered, his body shivering in confirmation of his words.
“I know, but they stay,” Sam said. “I tell you what, I’ll wrap them in a towel and that should help.”
Sam hobbled to the bathroom and grabbed four hand towels out of the linens’ closet and hurried back to wrap each ice pack in the thin cloth. After covering his brother up to his neck in sheet only, Sam perched himself on the side of the bed again.
“Better?” he asked.
“L-lit-le bit,” Dean responded.
Elsewhere in the house, they could hear the phone ring several times before Missouri’s voice faintly answered it from the direction of the kitchen. Realizing how good the bed felt and not knowing how long the phone call would last, Sam decided to stretch out beside his quivering brother, leaning up against the pillows propped against the headboard. He didn’t dare leave his brother’s side for fear he’d ditch the packs before they’d had time to work.
Closing his eyes and letting his mind wander sleepily, Sam felt himself becoming limp against the softness of the mattress – his worn, heavy body finding it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation of sleep. Beside him, Dean’s quaking body shook the bed slightly and Sam could hear his brother’s soft breaths catching with chills. He began to replay Jay’s words in his mind, wondering what he could say to ensure his brother’s full cooperation in whatever the good doctor had planned.
“Hey, S-sam?” Dean’s voice broke the silence hanging between them.
“Yeah?” Sam answered.
“I’m d-dying, aren’t I,” he asked, resignedly, acceptingly.
“What?” Sam jerked up, fully awake and scanning Dean’s face. “No. No, Dean. I won’t let that happen.”
“I can f-f-feel it, Sam. Every-th-thing around me is h-hazy and dull…like it’s becoming less r-real. I can feel the empti-ness g-growing inside me, the cold-ness…somethin’s wrong.” Dean spoke with his arms drawn around himself, trying vainly to ward off the icy embrace that had settled permanently inside his bones.
Sam soothed, “You’re just feeling that way because you’re sick. That’s all.”
“N-no, Sam. This is dif-ferent. I’ve been sick be-fore, b-but not like th-this. I don’t kn-know what’s real and what’s not anymore. Every-thing’s jumbled up and I can’t g-get warm – no m-mat-ter how many bl-ankets are piled o-on.”
Sam’s voice took on an intense, determined edge as he said, “Look, Dean, you’ve got to hold on, man. Don’t lose faith. The doctor’ll be back real soon and then we can get started on getting you better. But, you’ve got to fight for this, for yourself. You have to want this bad enough to fight for yourself, but I know you and I know how you think. If you can’t fight this for yourself, then do it for me. I need you to stick around, Dean. Please, just don’t give up on me.”
“Sam-my, what if th-this’s meant to be? You c-can’t cheat death forever. Maybe f-fate’s caught up wi-with me.”
“And what, Dean? Are you just gonna give up and let it come for you? Are you just gonna leave me to fight this demon on my own? You heard what it said. It wants me and it won’t stop trying until it gets me or we destroy it. I don’t want to do this without you. Don’t you give up on me now!” Sam’s angry voice shook and wavered.
Peering up into his little brother’s scared face, Dean chattered, “Not g-giving up, S-sam, just being realistic. I’ll n-never give up on y-you, but you need to pre-pare yourself for the reality th-that I might n-not win this one.”
“You’d better, because I’m not giving up. And I won’t let you give up, either,” Sam said with confidence that was more show than real feeling.
“Th-that’s my hard-headed little brother. Al-ways th-the optimist,” Dean said, his voice as strong as he could make it.
“Well, somebody around here has to be,” Sam said, leaning back against the headboard again, crossing his arms over his chest.
By the time Missouri came back to the room with the coffee, both boys had fallen asleep – Dean fitful and restless and Sam with his head in an obviously uncomfortable angle against the bed’s headboard. Pulling the covers up around both men, Missouri took the mug of coffee and backed out of the room quietly, careful not to disturb either one.
That was how John Winchester found his boys when he got back with the medicine. Standing in the doorway watching them both, the usually gruff man’s face softened into a parent’s loving, wistful smile. He hadn’t seen his two boys sleeping next to each other like that since Sam had gotten old enough to demand his own bed and his own space, declaring his independence from his big brother so many years ago as all siblings are wont to do.
As he stood there, small white sack in hand, he was struck by how much they both had grown since then – no longer boys, but men. Strong, honorable, men. Young men that made a man’s heart swell with the pride of a father. More than ever, John realized how much he just wanted this to be over, for the boys to gain some type of normal life. The life they deserved to have. The life he’d never given them. Once more doubt swirled in his mind and constricted his heart as he wondered how different things might’ve been for them both if he’d been able to handle things differently, if he’d just went this way instead of that.
Shaking his head in dismay, John wondered for the millionth time what would’ve been the best way to raise his sons, considering the circumstances. At the time, all he could think of was how he had needed to prepare them, train them to protect themselves. He never felt that any of them could ever be truly safe until the thing that killed Mary was destroyed. Knowing now that the demon had been after Sam all along, he wondered how he could’ve possibly done it differently. Obviously, Sam was still in danger, which, by default, meant Dean was in danger. How can I protect them both? he wondered.
Before he could finish mulling his frightening thoughts over, he heard Dean begin to moan and mutter in his sleep. He noticed how Dean’s distress was causing Sam’s face to curl up in a tight grimace – it was almost as if the two boys were invisibly connected, like in the kitchen that morning.
Striding over to the bed, he sat beside his older son and began smoothing his hair back with his hand as he soothed, “Its okay, Son. You just sleep now, I’m gonna make this right somehow. Just sleep, Dean. I won’t let anything hurt you ever again.”
The confident words seemed to penetrate Dean’s delirium and he quieted again and Sam’s face smoothed back out in response. John continued to linger beside his sons, watching, thinking, making plans. Finally, he rose and walked around the bed where he left the sack of medicine on the table before going in search of Missouri.
He found her in the homey little kitchen working on lunch for everyone. Although it was already late in the afternoon, they were just now getting around to eating the noon hour meal. John poured himself a cup of coffee and took his usual place at the table where he could watch the sun beginning its decent toward the horizon. Winter was definitely coming on, he found himself thinking.
The woman working busily in between the stove and fridge never looked up as she said, “You’re back, I see.”
“Yeah, I’m back,” came the jumbled answer as John took a slurp of coffee.
“Get what you went after?” she asked.
“Yep, sure did.”
“Checked on the boys?”
“Yeah. Still sleeping like babies.”
“They both fell asleep shortly after you left. I figure they’ll be waking up about the time I get this food done.”
Sitting silent for a few minutes, John hesitated before saying, “This’s my fault, you know.”
Turning around to face the sullen man at the table, Missouri responded, “Well, you won’t get any arguments from me that there’re plenty of things you could’ve done better, but to say that this’s all your fault’s giving yourself a little too much credit, don’t you think? I mean, that evil thing that has plagued your family all these years takes the bulk of that responsibility.”
“Maybe I should’ve just taken the boys to Jim’s and left them there and went after the thing on my own.”
“No, John. Those boys would’ve been heartbroken if you’d left them behind. And, they needed to be prepared for whatever plans that thing has for Sam. All things considered, you did the best you knew how.” Missouri turned back to her work.
“Well, maybe my best just wasn’t enough,” John’s remorseful voice answered back. “I was arrogant to think that this demon could be destroyed so easily, without casualties. I turned a blind eye to the possibility that this thing could be stronger than the sum of the three of us. And, I haven’t always been there for the boys like a father should be. That they could doubt my feelings for them’s proof enough that I failed them.”
Turning back around, Missouri said, “Yes, you’ve made mistakes, but it’s not too late to fix them or at least try. Don’t give up so easy.”
“Yeah, well, what if I don’t know how? You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Missouri. No matter how bad he wants to learn them.”
“Pish posh,” she spat, “It’s never too late to learn new things, John Winchester. And those boys are worth the effort.”
Raising his thick, dark eyebrows, John simply stated, “You’re right. They are.”
At that, Missouri quietly resumed her task and left the stubborn man behind her to ponder what had just been said, hoping that her old friend would see the sense in his own words and come to the right conclusions about his family. She trusted that he would come to see that it would never be too late to make amends as along as his two sons and he were stilling living. Old dogs can learn new tricks as long as the spirit is willing and the body is able.
a/n: Thanks goes to these ladies for the speedy betas, Mady Bay andsojourner84.